Mule deer and elk are the principal big game species on our Utah mineral leases, with the leases occupying favored winter range for both species. Herd sizes and survivability are determined primarily by food availability through the full range of conditions in these winter range areas. Mule deer are primarily browsers, preferring shrubs and forbs, but they will also eat grasses and sage. Elk are primarily grazers, preferring grasses, but they will also eat shrubs and forbs. The environment of the Seep Ridge site of three basic types:
Dense Forest: Dense forest occupies the largest portion of the area. There is virtually no food for deer or elk in these areas, but the forest does provide shelter.
Sparse Forest: Sparse forest occupies a large portion of the area. There is a small amount of grasses and shrubs, with sage comprising most of this.
Sage Flats: Sage flats occupy a smaller area. There is more food in this area, with more grasses and shrubs, primarily sage.
Taken as a whole, these areas provide the best winter range for deer and elk in the area, but the capacity to support animals in the worst of winters is still very limited. (Note: all of these photos were taken in September 2017, with perhaps the best fall crop of food plants for the past several years.) In collaboration with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Habitat Program Manager, a research test plot was seeded in 2013 on our Seep Ridge lease with several shrub, forb, and grass species that are native to the region. These species were selected based on the precipitation in the area with a subset of species chosen to provide maximum protein for the full range of historically experienced winter conditions.
This research plot was fenced and has been allowed to grow without disturbance. Contrary to the popular perception that mined oil shale debris is barren, this planting continues to flourish, as shown below. The results of this research will be used to provide an abundance of rich feed for mule deer and elk in future reclaimed areas on our leases.
Penstemon Grahamii (PeGr) is a beautiful and rare flower that is native to very limited regions of the high desert and is relatively widespread in the southern Uinta Basin. There has been concern that this plant may become endangered, and there is a widespread belief that it cannot be deliberately planted and successfully grown in the wild; the implication being that destroying growing plants or disturbing areas where they are found to grow will endanger the survival of these plants. In particular, it is believed that mining in the areas of growth of these plants might endanger them. However, research at the University of Utah suggests that PeGr is amenable to revegetation. In an effort to explore this thesis, State of Utah researchers, in collaboration with our staff, planted several of these plants in shale mining debris on our Seep Ridge lease, fenced the planting to protect it from small animals, and observed plant behavior. These plantings showed excellent growth after many years.